In the era of social media and instant communication, a PR crisis can blow up into an absolute catastrophe that businesses won’t ever recover from.
Mistakes happen, and when they’re big enough to trigger a full-blown PR brand crisis, you have to be able to respond quickly and effectively if you want to salvage your good name and maintain your company’s momentum.
If managed incorrectly, bad publicity can destroy your reputation, making it difficult to acquire new customers or even find buyers for your business in the future, should you decide to sell.
In these situations, it’s just as much about responding in the right way as it is about not responding in the wrong way. You need to avoid several mistakes if you want to come out of a brand crisis with your good name intact.
But what are the worst mistakes a brand could make when facing a PR nightmare? How can you avoid them and keep your image sparkling as your rise out of the brand crisis mud? In this article, we’re going to answer these questions, creating a list of four “don’ts” to keep in mind when catastrophe strikes.
When a branding crisis drops, the worst mistake you can make is to ignore it or hope that it will go away with no direct response. That’s not how the court of public opinion works. By delaying your response, you not only project an aura of neglect and disinterest in the scenario that has upset your customers, but you’re also allowing biased narratives to form and spread without contradicting them.
If left untouched for too long, those false narratives become the only narratives. What’s more, your largest and fiercest competitors might jump in and use your crisis to their advantage. By issuing their own statement about the issues facing your company, they could steal your audience and push you further down the ladder.
So, how can you ensure that your response to a branding crisis is timely and effective? You plan ahead and create an advance crisis management plan. Start by performing what’s called a crisis audit on your business. Identify common crises that befall businesses and document what could happen and how other companies have addressed similar problems in the past, both positive and negative.
In the image above, you can see a great example of how to prepare a crisis management plan for a speedy response. You first outline the scenario; in this case, it’s a natural disaster. You highlight the message you want to convey and the results you’re hoping to achieve with that messaging.
By forming a plan ahead of time, you’ll be able to ensure that when a crisis hits, you can take immediate action and put out a statement. This will help you get out in front of the backlash before the media and social media have a chance to run with it and mutate your crisis into something a lot worse.
But that doesn’t mean you should fly off half-cocked and release a statement that hasn’t been thought out. If you do that, you’re going to risk escalating the situation. Create a crisis management protocol for situations that might develop.
Even a quick statement saying that you’re aware of the situation and are launching an internal investigation to determine what actions need to be taken will be enough to get you out ahead of the next crisis. Don’t forget to discuss channels you’ll use to communicate, and brand yourself to have a trustful source of inforamation for your customers.
In keeping with our theme of communication, a lackluster response or complete lack of response is one of the worst mistakes you could possibly make.
You can’t just stay silent and hope that the public will get tired of the crisis and move on to something else. Sure, eventually, the public eye turns to something else entirely, and your crisis might take a break from the conversation. Still, the damage that a prolonged PR crisis with no response from the company can do to a brand image can be severe and long lived.
Brand recognition is important for businesses, but more so than that, positive brand recognition is what’s most vital. When customers look at your logo, will they think about the quality of your service or the horrible situation you completely ignored?
So, simply put, you have to respond. Formulate a company response and stick to that messaging. Don’t shy away from the situation or try to sweep it under the rug. Approach it directly but with a strategy in place. And when people bring it up to you, don’t run from the topic. Instead, respond in line with your company’s stance. Follow phishing statistics to ensure your emails are secure and keep your messaging as personalized as possible.
Continuous communication is a fundamental part of managing a brand crisis. You need to let your audience know what you’re doing to move past this crisis and create a brighter tomorrow for your brand. Social channels are one of the most prominent communication mediums available, so visual elements play a huge role in ensuring you deliver the information properly. Use a tool with photo editing online capabilities to create visuals or, if needed, infographics that help your customers understand the actions you’re taking.
In case of brand crysis don’t forget to use your influencer list management tool to communicate with opinion leaders and creators you’ve worked with. Notify ambassadors immediately.
When issuing a public apology or response to a brand crisis, sincerity is one of the most important things to focus on. Consumers can quickly sniff out an insincere statement or apology, and when you make such a blunder, they’re not quick to forgive.
Take United Airlines as a prime example of this. A pair of branding crises rocked the airline in 2017, and an insincere cold statement from the airline’s CEO ultimately cost the company $800 million in value.
What triggered this massive stock fall? First, the company made headlines for barring a pair of teenagers from one of its flights because of their leggings. This situation quickly escalated, and the company came under fire for these practices.
Then, a short time later, a video made its way online of a passenger being forcibly dragged off a flight by United staff. It turned out that the passenger was being removed to make room for United’s employees, which sparked extreme outrage right away.
United’s response to this incident was an insincere statement in which the company’s CEO justified the flight crew’s actions and expressed regret at having to “re-accommodate” passengers.
The end result was not pretty, with United’s stock value freefalling and the brand’s name becoming associated with this scandal to this day.
We’ve discussed the importance of responding, doing so quickly, and doing it sincerely. But if you’re using overly technical jargon that the general public won’t understand, you’re not effectively communicating.
If you’re communicating something like a data breach for a digital service, you don’t need to go into all of the insider terminology regarding the technical details of the issue. No one wants or needs to know about the technical specifics regarding the breach. The only thing they care about is that you’re acknowledging the issue, apologizing, making it right in some way, and taking steps to ensure that this never happens again.
You’ll also want to avoid office jargon, as the average consumer has little patience for it, which hurts your overall sincerity.
Here’s a list of office jargon the general public has little to no tolerance for.
Make sure that you’re speaking plainly. Level with your audience and reassure them that you’re doing everything in your power to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. By taking these steps, you’ll inspire confidence in them, using language that they understand and appreciate.
A brand crisis can be horrifying for a business, but they do happen, and they’re not the end of the world. If you handle the situation tactfully and avoid the mistakes highlighted in this article, you’ll be able to save face and pull your brand out of trouble.
By sticking with these four simple truths, you can create a crisis management plan that will preserve your brand’s reputation.
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